Photo above: Mesa Verde cliff dwelling. Courtesy National Park Service. Right/Below: Historic photo of Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Mesa Verde National Park
If you're looking for a great place to let your mind wander back to a time long ago, 600 A.D. or so, then the spectacular mesas and dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people perched on the cliffs of Mesa Verde are a good place to start. With dwellings high in the mountains, many which require a climb up ladders, you can imagine the Indian culture that lasted in the area for seven hundred years, and the situation that the inhabitants of these homes lived in. They built these homes for protection. They built these homes for heritage. They built these Colorado homes using the natural wonders of the region in summer and winter, without the need for a heater and worry about middle eastern oil prices.
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Mesa Verde Then
The Pueblo People- They came to the region 1,400 years ago and built these stone palaces to live in, then they left. There are known as Anasazi and during their time in Mesa Verde had left their formerly nomadic life for a life of farming. (Sounds like the women wanted to settle down some.) At the peak of this civilization, several thousand people lived in the Mesa Verde region. Nobody really knows why they left to go back to New Mexico and Arizona; there is no written record.
Mesa Verde Dwellings- There are over 5,000 archaelogical sites within the park. But the most prevalent, or to most visitors, the reason they come to Mesa Verde, are those cliff dwellings. And the odd thing is, that the Indians who made their home in this area, did not build these dwellings for the first six hundred years, waiting until the 1190s to build them. And they'd only live in them for a little over one hundred years.
Photo above: The Balcony House, circa 1890-1900, by Thomas McKee. Courtesy National Park Service. Below: Mesa National Park Visitor Center. Courtesy National Park Service.
Mesa Verde Now
A visit to Mesa Verde National Park, which was established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, not only takes you back in time, but it allows you to embrace that time. For each rung of the ladders you must climb to get inside some of the sites, (these tours can be strenuous) you get the feeling of what the Indian nations of this region and others lived like, well before the European settlers came into the area and discovered them again. The photo of Cliff House, circa 1918, show just one view of the precarious nature of these historic dwellings.
There's a whole lot to do at Mesa Verde, what with all this history and the recreation of the lands which surrounds it. And while it may not be huge like the Grand Canyon and its over 1 million acres, there are 52,000 acres to explore, within the pueblos (there are 600 of them) and beyond. Camp, hike, fish, and explore the culture that dominated, or really augmented the lands of the west for hundreds of years in a setting so powerful, you'll actually want to try it for a while. Well, until you feel the need for a mall, at least. But who'd want to do that instead of visiting this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although Mesa Verde is not near the top of the Rocky Mountains, it certainly is still high, nearing 8,572 feet at its highest point, called Park Point. One interesting note ... In later days, the Ute tribe lived in the Mesa Verde area, but did not live in the cliff dwellings.
The Cliffhouses - Six hundred of them that were used as dwellings. You can explore some on your own, or go on ranger guided tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House. There is a $3 fee for those tours. The rest don't require the fee, including Step House and Spruce Tree House.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Mesa Verde National Park T-Shirts and Souvenirs. Great for nature, national park, and Indian heritage history fans.
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Although it's a bit pricier than the other day time tours, a unique view of Cliff Palace can be had in the twilight tour for $10. Make reservations ahead of time for that as only 20 people can go on that tour during any day. Price subject to change.
2. Take the Mesa Top Loop Road. It's six miles with a variety of paved walking trails that extend off it to interesting sites and beautiful vistas.
3. Drive to the Chapin Mesa Archaelogical Center and take in the 25 minute film. It explains in grand detail the culture of the people who inhabited the areas you will visit.
Photo above: One of the creatures who did not leave the cliff dwelling area over the centuries and still lives there, a yellow-headed collared lizard. Courtesy National Park Service.